It’s good to be a comic book fan these days. While the Marvel and DC universes have seen phenomenal success on both the big and small screen, the comic book industry itself is experiencing its own kind of renaissance. According to American market research group Comichron, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comics and graphic novels, Diamond Comic Distributors, shipped a record 10 million-plus comics to US retailers in August 2016—the most since 1996. In dollars, the orders represented US$58 million, or a 32% increase. The overall value, meanwhile, of comic book and graphic novel US shipments for all of last year was up by 3% to US$388 million.
So where do sales to kids fit in the mix? It’s hard to know for sure because Comichron doesn’t break out its numbers by customer demo, but if it did, children would likely play an important role, given the industry’s history of early fandom.
Two longtime partners that have recognized and successfully leveraged the broad appeal of comics, especially with kids, are Cartoon Network and L.A.-based comic book and graphic novel publisher BOOM! Studios.
The companies first got together in 2012 when BOOM! signed on to publish comics based on Cartoon Network’s hit animated series Adventure Time.
Two years later, BOOM! inked a first-look deal, giving the publisher first refusal on any comic book adaptations of newly launched Cartoon Network original comedies.
Since then, comic book versions have emerged for Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, Regular Show, Steven Universe, Uncle Grandpa, Clarence and Over the Garden Wall.
“Adventure Time continues to be a strong comic book program within our portfolio. We’ve launched not only a traditional monthly series, but also expanded into original graphic novels and miniseries of four to six comics within the edition,” says Pete Yoder, VP of Cartoon Network Enterprises.
Marceline and the Scream Queens was the first miniseries to launch, followed by Fiona and Cake, in which all of the characters swap genders. “We’ve been able to do a lot of unique things that we might not be able to do within an 11-minute episode for television,” says Yoder.
To this point, Cartoon Network recently teamed up with the publisher’s KaBOOM! imprint on an original graphic novel entitled Adventure Time: Islands. Based on the network’s TV miniseries of the same name, the US$9.99 novel launched last November and takes place a thousand years before Adventure Time starts.
“We launched the comic before the miniseries premiere in January. The TV version featured an eight-episode arc and performed really well for us,” says Yoder.
Because comics represent a format that spans demographics, Cartoon Network is very flexible in what it provides for its fans.
“We see the young four-year-old boy or girl who is interested in beginner comics, all the way up to the adult who is engaged in more intricate storytelling. And there’s also the collector, who may have the same comic but wants all of the alternate covers,” says Yoder.
“We know brands like Adventure Time and Steven Universe have a much wider audience in terms of kids, tweens, teens and young adults, versus something like Gumball, which has more of a traditional kid audience. So there we would look at more traditional bind-ups and formats that work for a younger audience.”
Keeping the fans happy means ensuring the show creators are, too. It’s why the network, when it can, tries to incorporate showrunners into the comics creatively because they are so familiar with the brands.
“But it’s also always interesting to have outside talent that doesn’t work on the shows come in and look at how they would interpret the stories and characters, which may be very different from what you see in the linear versions,” says Yoder.
Coming up, the network is looking to develop interactive digital comics for more enhanced experiences, and according to Yoder, is eyeing its brand-new multiplatform series Mighty Magiswords for comic book opportunities.
“We’re also very excited by the launch of Ben 10 this year. As a traditional boys action brand, it’s a natural for comics.”